Warning. This is a very long post. I have a lot to say. On Sunday we left Ecuador for good. It was strange. We had been there for four months. That is a long time. But all things come to an end and it was time to leave. We woke up at 3AM, had breakfast (odd time to eat, right?), and headed to the Guayaquil airport. Our first flight was to Lima, Peru. We were all dead tired and trying to check in, figure out our luggage, and get to the terminal. We finally boarded our plane at like 6AM. The plane was massive. And there just so happened to be almost no one on it. So we all spread out and got to lie down and sleep in our own rows. It was sweet! A couple of hours later, we finally got into Lima! Lima is the capitol of Peru and has more people than New York City. Over a third of the population of Peru lives there.
We got off the plane, got our luggage, went through customs, and then headed right back to a different terminal. We got on yet another plane and flew to Cuzco, Peru. Cuzco is the Incan Capitol. They believed it was the center of the world and the city is full of amazing history. We got off the plane, out of the airport, and took a bus to our hotel. When we got there (at about 3PM) we were told to just go to sleep. And that we did. The altitude here is even higher than it was in Ecuador so we have been really tired and have had awful headaches as our bodies try to adjust. Over three hours later, I woke up and then we all went to dinner. It has been hard trying to deal with the exchange rate. We were very lucky that Ecuador used US dollars. But in Peru they have the soles. Soles have about a 2.5 exchange rate so something that is 15 soles is only 6 dollars. But it always freaks me out when I see the price of something because it sounds so expensive. After dinner, we went back to the hotel, hung out, played cards, and then went to bed. It was a very long day.
On Monday we headed out on a city tour. We drove to the top of the city and went to some Incan ruins. The name of the place is called Saqsaywamam (sound it out and you will figure out why we were laughing about it all day). They were amazing. They had enormous stone walls that formed terraces on the hillsides. We got to explore around there for a while and then walk up to the top of the hill to a great lookout spot over all of Cuzco. We walked around some more, got to go through some underground tunnels, chase around some llamas, and then we headed back to the bus. We made one more stop on our way back into the main part of the city to an Incan temple site. A lot of it had been destroyed from the Conquistadores, but it was still so great to see. I could just picture the people there at the height of the Incan empire. Amazing.
We drove back down into the city and then went to the main cathedral. It was absolutely gorgeous. And massive. We got to walk around in there for a long time just looking at all the paintings, sculptures, and architecture. After, we went to another museum for a bit, and then headed back to the hotel. We went out to lunch, and then had the afternoon free to explore and shop in the city. There are so many artisanal crafts lining the streets. We spent hours walking around the stores and looking at everything.
Later that evening, we all decided to go to a traditional dance show at the Cuzco Center for Traditional Art. They had a series of dances that are native to different parts of Peru. The costumes were amazing, the live music was beautiful, and the dancers were very talented. It was a lot of fun. But by far the best part was during one song, they invited the audience to come up on the stage and dance. For a long time, no one went up. But then a bunch of my friends from my program ran up on stage and danced around for the rest of the song. It was hilarious and the entire audience was laughing and cheering them on.
Tuesday was our day of Incan ruins. We left the hotel in the morning and drove around the outskirts of Cuzco for hours, visiting different ruin sites. Each one got larger, more intact, and all around more incredible than the next. They all involved a lot of walking/ hiking, but they were amazing. The Incans had a very specific style of architecture where the stones they used for walls and buildings line up perfectly. I could not figure out how they moved the massive boulders around without wheels or modern machinery. I loved walking around their old temples, buildings, and homes. We would just sit and try to imagine it like it was at the height of the Incan Empire. We also got to visit a place that had llamas, alpacas, and vicunas. They are seriously the strangest animals. They look so odd.
At night, we took the train to AguasCalientas. The train ride was extremely bumpy and there were a bunch of French people sitting next to us. It was interesting trying to communicate between French, English, and Spanish. The sun had already set by the time we got on the train so we could not see hardly anything outside the windows. After a couple of hours, we finally arrived. AguasCalientas is the small town that is in the middle of the Andes Mountains. All we could make out when we got off the train were enormous mountains all around us. We were all so excited to be there because the next day was the day we had been looking forward to the entire trip: going to the Incan ruins at Machu Picchu. It was seriously like Christmas Eve. We spent the night in a small hotel and tried to get some sleep before the big day.
The next morning on Wednesday, we woke up at 5AM. It was not very pretty. We got our stuff together, packed our bags, got into our hiking gear, ate breakfast, and headed out. As we walked outside, we could finally see the stunning mountains surrounding us. They were the tallest that I had ever seen. They shot straight up into the sky. It was unbelievable. We took a bus up one of the mountains. We drove through the endless switchbacks for a long time until we finally arrived at the entrance. Machu Picchu is known as the lost Incan city. It is one of the most intact Incan ruin sites because the Spanish conquistadores never were able to find it. It is a whole city in the sky and one of the seven man-made wonders of the world.
When we got there the entire mountain was covered in fog so we could barely see anything. Our guide led us across the ruins and to the other mountain called Huayna Picchu. In the classic view of Machu Picchu, there is a huge mountain in the in the background. We got to be some of the lucky few that got to climb to the top of this mountain so we could look out over the entire site. We got through the line and started our ascent. The mountain was almost straight up vertical. It was almost 45 min straight of walking up steep stairs. The switchbacks were endless. My quads and calves were burning, I was out of breath (the altitude did not help at all), and I had to stop every little while to rest. But the view was spectacular. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally reached the top of Huayna Picchu. Amazing. The fog had just started to clear so we had a picture perfect view of Machu Picchu. It was stunning. We finally made it. Trust me, this place is worth the hype. And that hike up, totally worth it too. We stayed there for a long time, just marveling at the view.
After a while, we made the long hike back down. It was not easy on the knees. We got back down to Machu Picchu and then had a tour around the ruins. Our guide explained to us the significance and meaning of the different places. It was fantastic. We could see the city much clearer since the fog was gone. It is massive. It was so cool to listen to all the different languages around us. I loved how a place like this can bring people together from all over the world.Such an amazing experience. I do not have the words to describe how great it was.Unreal.Definitelya dream come true.
We made journey back to Cuzco, showered, and passed out. Thursday we had a free day in Cuzco. In the morning we went to a chocolate museum and factory. It was so yummy! I got to make my own hot chocolate and it was delicious. After that we did a lot of shopping, walking around, and relaxing.That night we had our final dinner together as a group. We went to this nice restaurant that had a buffet of foods from all over Peru. The food was delicious and we all ate way too much.
On Friday, we woke up, packed up, and went back to the airport. We flew back to Lima for our final day in South America. After we got into Lima, we dropped our stuff off at the hostel and went out for lunch. We then went on a city tour that lasted hours. We drove around in a bus to the main cathedral, the president’s palace, and other cool places. At night we then went to a park full of amazing fountains. There were maybe ten different ones. Some were absolutely massive. Others had colored lights in them. And one was a circle maze that you could walk through. Most of us got soaked. We ended the night by visiting el parquedelamor. It had a beautiful view out over the ocean.
But then we had to start our goodbyes. Four people in the program had to leave to catch their red eye flights. It was a very sad goodbye. Lots of tears. I will really miss these people. We have done everything together for the last four months. I have made a lot of really great friends here that I know I will have for life. So tonight is a sad one. I am a jumble of emotions. I fly out tomorrow afternoon and I am finally coming home. So the next time I post, I will be in the USA. Weird. But good, I think. So I guess I will see y’all soon! Chao!